Edinburgh rower closes in on her Olympic dream

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Undertaking a university degree studying medicine is a formidable challenge for even the most diligent of students.

However, attempting to combine the demands of academic study with a promising rowing career was the challenge Olympic hopeful Polly Swann set herself.

Nevertheless, the 23-year-old Edinburgh University student was able to reach a compromise with university officials, who granted a leave of absence with an option to resume her studies at a later and more convenient date. The former George Heriot’s school pupil has therefore converted all her efforts into qualifying for the GB Olympic rowing team in the Women’s Eight category for this summer’s Games.

She said: “The university has been amazing and very supportive. They’ve been really positive and wanted me to take this opportunity when I explained the situation but I couldn’t combine both.

“We’ve got the Olympic trials coming up in March but that will be followed by another period of testing before the last date of selection in May. The process is quite late on but it will keep the competition going and keep everyone fresh so I think I’ve got a good chance of making the team.”

Swann has not long returned from a training camp in Portugal where she was complimentary of the facilities on offer to the national squad. The calmer conditions of the lake close to the town of Avis enabled a constructive regime to be set out for the squad where the demands of each session put their fitness endurance levels to the test.

“It was probably the hardest I have ever trained,” Swann said. “The camp was broken down into five sections where each section lasted three days. This one was solely for training purposes so it was really intense.

“We swapped around a lot of the boats we were training in which meant you rowed with different people and some who are really experienced and have already been to the Olympics. So for me to now be in the same team rowing with them is great as I can learn so much from their experience.”

Unfazed by having to temporarily relocate to Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, to train with her associated rowing club Leander, Swann – born in Lancaster prior to her move to Edinburgh as a young girl – is awaiting the most critical period in her rowing career.

A break from the sport due to a bad injury at Junior level hindered her development but she recovered sufficiently enough to represent Scotland at the 2010 Commonwealth Rowing Championships in the Canadian city of Welland.

“Our volume of training here at home is beginning to decrease now as we are preparing to do a lot of testing which is coming up. The intensity of the training is increasing, however, but this will change again as we get closer to March.

“They (the coaches) are going to be swapping us around a bit to identify our partners and who we will be paired with for the Olympic trials.

“To be selected with the expected atmosphere in London this summer would be incredible. To be given this opportunity to compete in the home games with the whole country watching on would just be unbelievable. It’s a high pressure sport but one I relish and a moment I’d never be able to forget.”

Should Swann achieve her goal of securing a place in the team for the event which unfolds at Eton Dorney Rowing Centre in Buckinghamshire this July, she admits the mentality amongst the current squad is one that the anticipating British public can be encouraged about.

She added: “My hopes would be to definitely achieve a medal and I think I speak on behalf of the whole squad. The Americans are both the World and reigning Olympic Champions so they are the team to beat.

“I don’t think any British Women’s Eight squad have ever achieved a medal before so it would not only be a real achievement but also a little bit of history made as well.”